Friday, May 31, 2013

Shakespeare Roundup: What I Learned from Richard II

I'm in the midst of the histories over at My Shakespeare Year. Here's what I had to say about The Life and Death of King Richard II:

There are parts of Richard II that remind me a little of Harry Potter. And it's not just because I kept reading it while playing Harry Potter in the background (although I did). No, it's the part where Bolingbroke has taken the throne and is now King Henry IV and the Duke of York is in a panic because he wants to appear loyal to the new king (even though he was against him, like five minutes ago). So in order to prove his loyalty he immediately decides to sell out his own son, who had been a close ally to Richard II. His wife, the Duchess of York, flips the fuck out and tells him they must do everything they can to protect their only child, especially because she's not getting any younger and it's not like they're going to have more kids. But he doesn't care. All he wants to do is ingratiate himself to the new king at all costs.

Kind of like Lucius Malfoy.

Remember that part in The Deathly Hallows (and a little bit in The Half-Blood Prince) when Voldemort wants Draco to do this really dangerous thing for him and he'll probably get killed and Lucius is all like, "Yeah, serve the Dark Lord!" and his mom is all like, "EEK! NO! NOT MY SON!"? And then at the end when all the forces of good and evil are fighting and it looks like Voldemort's totally going to win and all hope is lost and Narcissa's all like, "Where's Draco? Is Draco alive?" AND THAT'S TOTALLY ALL THE FUCK SHE CARES ABOUT?

Yeah, it was like that.
So what did I learn? Well I learned that if you have the Harry Potter movies on in the background when you're reading, it's going to seep into your brain.

Next up: Harry IV, Part I 

Shakespeare Roundup: What I Learned from King John

I'm not sure I learned much, but it is the beginning of my full-on trek into the histories. I'm a little nervous about it, to be honest. Here's what I wrote about The Life and Death of King John on My Shakespeare Year:

King John from KoboBooks
Well first of all I learned that a lot more famous quotations came from The Life and Death of King John than I originally thought. I thought it was one of Shakespeare's least popular plays (and these days it is) but it was apparently hugely popular in Victorian times, so a lot of expressions that we think of as Victorian phrases actually come from King John. For example:

That smooth-faced gentleman, tickling Commodity,
Commodity, the bias of the world. (2.1.573) 

Talks as familiarly of roaring lions

As maids of thirteen do of puppy-dogs! (2.1.470)

Old Time the clock-setter, that bald sexton, Time. (3.1.324) 

Bell, book, and candle shall not drive me back,

When gold and silver becks me to come on. (3.3.12) 

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,

Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form:
Then have I reason to be fond of grief. (3.4.92) 

Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale,

Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man. (3.4.108) 

Heat me these irons hot. (4.1.1) 

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,

To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess. (4.2.7) 

Heaven take my soul, and England keep my bones! (4.3.10) 

Here walk I in the black brow of night

To find you out. (5.6.17) 

Now my soul hath elbow-room. (5.7.28) 

I can see why this play was popular in Victorian England, since it deals almost entirely with the issue of succession to the throne and the adversarial relationship between France and England, things to which Britons could relate. It's for all of these reasons I suspect the play was never as popular in North America, which is kind of a shame because it also contains lines like this:

O prudent discipline! From north to south
Austria and France shoot in each other's mouth. 
(Act II scene i)

What a shame that university students in North America have missed out on years of giggling over THAT phrasing!

Next up: Richard II. Is that the winter of discontent one?

(Note: It's not.)

A Stop in the Park, by Peggy Panagopoulos Strack

A Stop in the Park
Author: Peggy Panagopoulos Strack 
Publisher: CreateSpace 
Publication Date: July 31, 2012
Oh dear. I think I have to stop accepting review requests directly from authors, particularly self-published ones. It isn't that all self-published books are bad (they can't all be bad, right?); it's that when authors contact me directly and they seem so nice and sincere and hopeful, I have a hard time saying anything bad about the book, even if I should. Don't get me wrong--I'm still going to be honest. It's just harder because I feel bad.

The thing is, this book has some problems. It's not the story or even the characters, it's the execution (as Tim Gunn would say). The word choices seemed odd, for instance. The character of Michael is supposed to be a tightly-wound perfectionist lawyer yet he uses words like "awesome" and "ice princess." He is "stunned" over a game of chess (really? stunned?). Characters are "devastated" or "elated" by the smallest of things. An irritated glance becomes a "frigid visual attack." It's just all a bit overwritten.

Then there is the chess. I'm not sure if Peggy Strack has ever played chess, but if she has, nothing in the book would indicate it. Michael is supposed to have his big life-changing epiphany by playing "blitz chess" in the park (that's the "Stop in the Park"). Yet the chess games are not described. At all. He sits down, he plans his attack, he gets defeated, the end. At one point his "king is robbed," a phrase that makes no sense whatsoever. Of course, there is a two-page description of a roast beef sandwich immediately following that first chess game, so I guess the author has no problem with description. She just can't seem to be able to describe a game of chess. It seems like a problem when she's already decided to make that a major plot point.

I get what this book was going for. It's meant to be contemporary fiction about how a person can get in a rut in their life and become dissatisfied with their work and their marriage, only to find salvation in the simplest of places. It's the sort of thing that Mitch Albom is known for, the sort of thing that Mark Haddon does so well (or even Dawn French or Sue Townsend). But this book isn't quite there.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Beyond the Solar System: Exploring Galaxies, Black Holes, Alien Planets, and More: A History with 21 Activities, by Mary Kay Carson

Beyond the Solar System
Exploring Galaxies, Black Holes, Alien Planets, and More
A History with 21 Activities 
Author: Mary Kay Carson 
Publisher: Chicago Review Press 
Publication Date: June 1, 2013

Space has been a BIG theme in our house lately. My daughter Magda is three-and-a-half, which I think is also known as "the astronaut age," meaning that she really wants to be an astronaut. Plus all of those fantastic videos by Chris Hadfield have been making it an exciting time to be a young Canadian space fan. We even had a "Space Day" recently, which involved decorating the hallway with lots of silver and black wrapping paper, stars, astronaut posters and "star maps" made out of black bristol board and white paint, then dumping two tonnes of bubble wrap on the floor for a "moon walk." It was awesome.

In preparation for Space Day, Magda and I went to the library to look for books about space, preferably ones that had lots of pictures, plenty of information that was both scientific and practical, and ideas for followup activities we could do at home. Most of the books we found met one or two of those criteria, but not all. Then I remembered that the book I was looking for was already on my computer! It was the digital galley of Beyond the Solar System that I got from NetGalley. Huzzah!

This book truly is fantastic. It checks all the boxes. It explains a lot about space, plus gives a history of space exploration that goes all the way back to ancient stargazers, plus it has activities that range from simple crafts to some pretty cool science experiments. It's a book that spans a lot of age ranges, though it's probably best suited for kids ages 8-14.

My only complaint is that I only have the digital galley. I can't wait until this book is released because I really need to pick up a print copy so Magda and I can flip through it again and again.

Also, hit the jump for a video of Chris Hadfield wringing out a wet cloth in space!

The Potty Mouth at the Table, by Laurie Notaro

The Potty Mouth at the Table
Author: Laurie Notaro
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
The Potty Mouth at the Table is funny in the same kind of faux-confessional foible-blog way that Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) or Justin Halpern (Sh*t My Dad Says) is funny. A "foible blog," in case you were wondering, is what I call that style of blog that consists of everyday stories of the author getting up to humourous hijinks, usually with the undertone of "Can you believe the things that happen to me? It's ridiculous! I bet you can relate/sympathize/feel less crazy by comparison." I have a lot of those blogs bookmarked.

But Laurie Notaro is no Jenny Lawson. It's not that the book isn't funny, it just...well it's hard to pinpoint, but I'd say there's somewhat of a mean-spiritedness in her writing that you don't find on The Bloggess, for instance. She seems to take some trivial things TOO seriously (to the point it's a little weird) and then is too flippant about other, actually serious things. Here are some examples:

--She tells the story of almost finding a dead homeless person in her backyard, whom she insists on calling "her hobo," then muses that she doesn't understand why people object to the word "hobo" because it makes homeless people seem "jaunty" and "jocular" like they're going to start humming to themselves while riding the rails with their bindles in hand (That's EXACTLY why, Laurie! It's because "hobo" makes it sound like homelessness is an amusing caricature for your entertainment instead of a real, serious problem affecting real people.)

--She flips out on her entire family when she discovers that her shower puff has been moved (Okay, I'm sort of with her on this one. I had a similar experience recently and it was &%^-ing gross.)

--She seems to hate a lot of things (food restrictions, yoga people, crazy people of all sorts) and even though I can understand her points, sometimes her rants cross over into bitter intolerance territory, which is a lot less funny.

Basically she's the difference between Kathy Griffin and Chelsea Handler. I love Kathy Griffin and I find her brand of celebrity bashing/fandom to be hilarious. I could watch her all day long. Chelsea Handler, on the other hand, well I just find her a little mean. And crass. On the other hand, Chelsea Handler has a HUGE fan base and many people love BOTH of these ladies, so I think it's fair to say that loads of people will also love Laurie Notaro (and probably do already). For me, though, I *almost* love her. But not quite. (And let's face it. If the worst thing I say about her is "she reminds me of Chelsea Handler" I don't think she's exactly going to be crying over that.)

But if you want to check Laurie Notaro out for yourself before you decide whether or not to get her book, you can go to her website:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Death in the Vines (A Verlaque & Bonnet Provencal Mystery), by M.L. Longworth

Death in the Vines

A Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery

Author: M.L. Longworth

Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: May 28, 2013

Oh come on! What the --? This book started out SO cozy. There are neighbouring vineyards in the south of France and one of them is the victim of a wine thief. Oh no! Who could it be?

Uh, could it be the...

[I don't know if this counts as a spoiler because it doesn't reveal the ending but it does talk about things that happen past the first few chapters, so I'll put up a "spoiler warning" and let you decide.]


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Freres, by Marie Letourneau (with Danielle Reed Baty)

The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Freres
Author: Marie Letourneau (with Danielle Reed Baty)
Publisher: Tanglewood
Publication Date: June 6, 2006

I would recommend this book if you have children and you love any of the following things:

  • food, particularly soup
  • cafes or bistros
  • cute talking mice
  • french
  • things that are awesome

This is like the fantastic book that I imagine Ratatouille could have been based on before Disney turned it into a CGI bland fest. Okay, that was harsh. Ratatouille was a pretty good movie. But this book is sooooo much better.

Murder as a Fine Art, by David Morrell

Murder as a Fine Art
Author: David Morrell
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication Date: May 7, 2013

If you took No Country For Old Men (or at least the movie, I haven't read the book), Ripper Street (the British TV show...I only saw one episode but it seemed like turn-of-the-century London meets Law and Order SVU) and Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher (the book, not the TV movie, although that was great as well) and shook them up in a jar, the result would be Murder as a Fine Art. 
David Morrell weaves facts about mid-1800's London (some of which are absolutely horrifying) with a story of a brutal mass murderer (fiction, but based on some real cases, such as the Ratcliffe Highway murders) and injects them with a fictionalized version of the real British essayist Thomas De Quincey (of Confessions of an English Opium Eater fame). De Quincey wrote an essay entitled, "Murder as a Fine Art," which was the inspiration for both Morrell's novel and the killing spree of his fictional character therein. As such, the opium addicted De Quincey (in the novel) becomes the chief suspect in the murders and struggles to clear his name through a fog of drug addiction.

It's rare that a Victorian crime novel keeps me up half the night and sends me to bed with nightmares, but this one certainly did. It's definitely not cozy. But every time I felt my sense of horror pushing past the brink, thinking what I was reading was surely more at home in a novel like Red Dragon than in a Victorian detective story, Morrell brought it back to facts, injected some more history into it, which both calmed me and kept me reading well into the wee hours. 

And thanks to David Morrell I now have an even longer reading list, as I can't wait to find out more about Thomas De Quincey, opium addiction and the Ratcliffe Highway murders. He reminds me of Kate Summerscale in that way. Actually no. It's more like if you were studying Victorian London in university, Kate Summerscale would be your favourite professor who had the most interesting lectures, but David Morrell would be the drunken professor who meets you down at the pub to tell you "a real story to make your hairs stand on end."

Monday, May 27, 2013

How to Read Literature, by Terry Eagleton

How to Read Literature
Author: Terry Eagleton
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication Date: May 21, 2013
It seems to me that critiquing a book about literary criticism is somewhat akin to using a lathe to make another lathe. If the book is good, I should be even better at critiquing it, based on the new literary criticism tips I gained. But if I can't muster up an effective critique, surely that reflects poorly on both me AND the book? Then again, that's not a very good metaphor so I guess I'm not off to a great start. What I'm getting at is that it's all very circular. Not unlike a lathe. (Nailed it.)

But How to Read Literature is not itself literature, so I guess I wouldn't use its own advice to criticize it. But I do think I will use its advice elsewhere. It's not so much an all-inclusive guide to literary criticism or to reading (despite the suggestive title), nor is it a reference book that students could use as a quick guide to writing better essays for English class, though their essays would certainly be improved by having read the book. Rather, it's a more of a treatise on why one should read carefully, paying attention to the form and intent of a piece of writing and not simply its content. Eagleton rightly points out that literature is not merely information and should not be read just for the plot points. A novel is more than what it's about. It is also how it is written, the choices the author makes, the degree to which those choices are skillful and effective. 

Eagleton uses numerous examples (including novels, poems, and even Shakespeare and the bible) to illustrate the art of careful reading. None of these examples are full literary criticisms of the works in question, but anecdotal examples to help the reader in their own reading. For instance, Eagleton spends a fair bit of time analyzing what we can learn from the opening line of Moby Dick ("Call me Ishmael"). It does not amount to a book report of Melville's classic novel, nor does the example necessarily bring deep insight into the novel, but rather shows the reader the kinds of questions we should be asking ourselves in our own reading.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

So Cool Sunday: Convos with my 2 year old

"Convos with my 2 year old: Actual conversation with my 2 year old daughter, as re-enacted with me and another full-grown man." 


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Killer Honeymoon: A Savannah Reid Mystery, by G.A. McKevett

Killer Honeymoon
A Savannah Reid Mystery
Author: G.A. McKevett 
Publisher: Kensington 
Publication Date: March 26, 2013 

I think I've only read one other book in the Savannah Reid series, and I remember it being a fun read (though apparently I had some issues with the fact checking, according to my review), so I was happy to get my hands on this. I've been reading so many heavy, heartbreaking books lately that I was due a nice light read. And thank goodness for it! It was exactly what I was looking for in a cozy mystery and it came at the perfect time.

One thing I liked about this one in particular is how the author managed to make her main characters--a police officer and a private investigator--feel like amateur sleuths (in a good way).  While on vacation (the titular killer honeymoon, no less), Savannah Reid and her new husband Dirk (Are people really named Dirk? Perhaps only in the South?) stumble upon a dying woman, the victim of multiple gunshot wounds. Although they are unable to save her, they do hear her dying declaration and are prepared to make a statement to the local police. Unfortunately the police seem more interested in protecting the reputation of the tourist destination than solving the murder of the woman, who turns out to be a popular news anchor. Obviously, Dirk and Savannah have to step in and solve the crime, with or without the help of the police!

A lot of times, the difference between a cozy mystery and a crime thriller is whether the murder is being solved by a professional police officer or an amateur sleuth. This of course is not a hard and fast rule, as there are plenty of cozies that star police officers (the Hamish Macbeth series by M.C. Beaton is one of my favourites), just as I'm sure there are plenty of gritty thrillers that don't. Of course it's the tone of the book that determines its genre. Still, there's something inherently cozy about having an amateur sleuth solve a crime on his or her (but often her) own, just as there's something thrilling about having a police detective do it.

Well at least in fiction. In real life, a police officer's day is disproportionately filled with paperwork and an amateur sleuth who tries to solve murders is charged with obstructing justice. But in mystery novels an amateur sleuth can be a delight. But how does the author get her character to solve the crime without her seeming like an insufferable busybody? And how does an author explain why her protagonist hasn't just gone to the police with her findings? This is the perennial question in amateur sleuth fiction. And I'm a sucker for an author who solves it well.

I'm so glad I didn't remember much about my previous encounter with PI Savannah Reid. I enjoyed Killer Honeymoon SO much more than I thought I would, based on my review of A Body to Die For. It may not be perfect and it may not be the book that "redefines the genre" or anything, but in terms of a satisfying cozy mystery and an escapist summer read, it's just perfect.

Friday, May 24, 2013

American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics, by Dan Savage

American Savage:

Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love and Politics

Author: Dan Savage

Publisher: Dutton Adult

Publication Date: May 28, 2013
I've been a fan of Dan Savage's weekly sex advice column, "Savage Love," for as long as I can remember. Well not literally, but for at least 10-15 years. I don't always agree with the advice but I love reading it. It's nice to know that there is such a shockingly wide array of human sexual experiences out there, and that everybody basically wants confirmation that happiness is possible, even for them. It all makes me feel so, well, normal. But more than that, I appreciate that there's an advice column that runs in newspapers all over North America that is so fiercely pro-LGBTQ, and that shows people that being gay is, well, pretty normal too.

American Savage is a little like "Savage Love" in that I don't always agree with Dan Savage's conclusions (his views on infidelity are a little challenging for me) but I very much enjoy reading them.

I particularly liked that he didn't presume his audience would know everything about him or get all his references, so he found ways throughout the book to explain the details without sounding pedantic or condescending.

And my favourite part of the book was when he talked about creating the It Gets Better project to help LGBTQ youth see hope for their futures. "You have got to give 'em hope," he says, quoting Harvey Milk. While the subject of "what to do about teen bullying" seems to be a favourite one these days, particularly among adults with task forces and committees, I love that Dan Savage went out and did something, and it was something hopeful. You've probably seen a thousand of those "It Gets Better" videos on YouTube, but here's one of my all-time favourite ones (after the break):

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide to Surviving Your Baby's First Year, by Dawn Dais

The Sh!t No One Tells You:
A Guide to Surviving Your Baby's First Year
Author: Dawn Dais
Publisher: Seal Press
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
This is the book I wish I had read when my daughter was first born. Except that I could barely keep my eyes open and I was still convinced that my precious free moments were best spent scrapbooking the precious memories of my baby's new life into an adorable hardcover book that I would proudly show off for an entire week and then never look at again. I was a sleep deprived idiot. 

But had I been able to formulate cohesive thoughts during those first few months, let alone process complex sentences, I could have really benefited from this book, with such reassuring chapters as:

  • "Breastfeeding is F'n Hard" (it really is); 
  • "No One is Loving This as Much as Their Facebook Posts Would Have You Believe" (soooo true...if you don't believe me, go back and look at your own Facebook posts from when your child was first born--if your child was born after 2007 of course--and notice the lack of posts that say "that little @#!$ woke me up every 30 minutes for no good reason and I'm starting to suspect it's some sort of personal infant vendetta");
  • "Your Newborn is Not Cute" (screw this, mine was adorable! ...sort of);
  • "Who Needs a Health Plan When You Have the Internet?" (the internet is hella dangerous to new parents--just ask the very nice nurses at my local emergency room when I brought in my five-week-old because when I took her temperature I thought it was half a degree higher than the other eight times I had taken it that day, and is it possible that she has malaria or scarlet fever or something?); and
  • "It Does Not Go By 'Soooo Fast'" (especially those first three or four months...those are like the longest night that never ends...I mean awesome, but also awful...both)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Man Up! Tales of my Delusional Self-Confidence, by Ross Mathews

Man Up!
Tales of My Delusional Self-Confidence
Author: Ross Mathews
(Foreword by Gwyneth Paltrow)
(Afterword by Chelsea Handler)
Publisher: Grand Central
Publication Date: May 7, 2013

I LOVE ROSS MATHEWS SO MUCH AND I WANT TO BE HIS BEST FRIEND AND HANG OUT WITH HIM EVERY DAY! That's how he got to be friends with Gwyneth Paltrow. He met her on a red carpet and said, "Okay, we're best friends now." And now they are! Of course, I've never met Ross Mathews, but at the beginning of his book he says we can be best friends so I'm taking him at his word. Yay!

If you're not familiar with Ross Mathews, he was also known as "Ross the Intern" on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. His unabashed enthusiasm for celebrities, television and, well, life were absolutely infectious. And all of that is in the book. The way he talks about what would otherwise be mundane details of life in a lesser man are handled with the gleeful enthusiasm you love so much in your new best friend. That's right. Ross Mathews is your new best friend too, even if you don't know it yet.

Oh, and if you're wondering what all the balloons are about, you'll be delighted to read about his elementary school's tradition of Balloon Day. One day a year the students of his grade school would write down their most sacred wishes on tiny slips of paper then send them up to the atmosphere in a magical sea of brightly coloured balloons. On lucky years, Ross Mathews got a pink balloon. And now, years later, he can have all the balloons--and wishes--he wants.

Ugh. I just read that last sentence and it's terrible. But the book is not. So fun!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, by Darien Gee (narrated by Tanya Eby)

The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society
Author: Darien Gee
Audiobook Narrator: Tanya Eby
Publisher: Ballantine
Publication Date: January 29, 2013
Audiobook Publisher: Tantor Media
Audiobook Publication Date: April 8, 2013
Buy Now on hardcover kindle audio
Buy Now on hardcover kindle audio
One thing I've learned since I've been book blogging is that it's a good idea to be specific in your reviews, even if you don't like the book, because other people may love a book for all the same reasons that you didn't. Case in point: The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society.

One reviewer, Gina on Goodreads, said it best: "I feel the need to point out that this is NOT some cheesy scrapbooking story where a murder takes place at a crop." That was part of a four-star review because Gina really liked that it was a cozy book but not a cozy mystery. Turns out, I didn't. See, I'm a huge fan of cozy mysteries. My blog is called "Cozy Little Book Journal" for just that reason. But every once in a while I try going off book (sorry, terrible pun) and try out a story that is just cozy. No mystery. Just cozy. I always assume that if I enjoy the sweet little small town societies in those murder stories, I'll enjoy them without the murder. Turns out I don't. Turns out I need the juxtaposition of sweet little old ladies in small towns solving multiple murders.

So The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society doesn't have a murder rampage. It's just a sweet little town with ladies who scrapbook and share their feelings about life. It's like "How to Quilt an American Quilt" I suppose. For me, that didn't quite cut it. But like Gina, I figure if I'm honest about why I didn't like it, that might help other people decide if they will.

I will say this though. I got both the ebook (from the library) and the audiobook (from Edelweiss) and I can attest that the audiobook narration by Tanya Eby is excellent. She tells the story well, like I was sitting by her feet at the fire with a warm blanket wrapped around my legs while she played with my hair and told me a story. Okay, that's a pretty specific image. Sorry if that got weird. 

Bottom line: I liked the narration but the story wasn't my favourite because I just don't care for the genre. I guess it evens out to a two-and-a-half star rating, which for someone else would probably translate to at least four stars (if they don't mind that there's no murder).

Monday, May 20, 2013

Mister Dash and the Cupcake Calamity, by Monica Kulling (illustrated by Esperanca Melo)

Mister Dash and the Cupcake Calamity
Author: Monica Kulling 
Illustrator: Esperanca Melo
Publisher: Tundra
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
I was absolutely delighted by this book. The illustrations are fun, lively and full of movement (and full of interesting detail as well--the dog's ears and bowtie match the little girl's hair and scarf). And the story is so cute! Mister Dash is a clever and loyal dog (dogs made up of five different breeds are the most loyal of all, after all) who helps his owner, Madame Croissant, bake and deliver cupcakes. And he wouldn't mind it so much if it weren't for the awkward saddle bags and goofy baker's hat. Luckily he has help, in the form of Madame Croissant's granddaughter Daphne. Together, can they fulfill Mayor Chester Field's order of 500 cupcakes and deliver them on time?

I loved everything about this book. I especially liked that Madame Croissant peppered her speech with French words and phrases, which prompted my daughter Magda and I to try out a little more French ourselves (I keep meaning to brush up on my French!). I liked that Daphne calls her grandmother "Grand-mere" just like Magda and I both do. I liked that the mechanic who fixes the delivery van is female. My only complaint? The author didn't include a recipe for Madame Croissant's salted caramel cupcakes!
Magda's Take:
"I want to know more about the van. My favourite page is the picture where the van breaks down. Why does the mechanic call it a buggy? If the author makes any more books, I hope the van is in it. I want to see more of the van!"
Mister Dash and the Cupcake Calamity 
Acrylic on gessoed paper
Illustration © Esperança Melo

Sunday, May 19, 2013

So Cool Sunday: Tent Book on Book

Oh I want one! It would be perfect for those times when you want your hands free but your book won't stay open. Oh, or if you happen to be reading in the rain for some reason. That's it. I need on right now. So cool!


F***Yeah, Book Arts!



Saturday, May 18, 2013

James Franco compares The Great Gatsby to Hamlet in Space. Sort of.

from Baldwin Wallace Theatre & Dance (source)

In James-Franco-is-a-stoner-and-I-don't-have-anything-else-to-write-about-today-news, James Franco is a stoner who has decided to write a review for Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby in Vice magazine. He argues that critics are being overly harsh about the director's adaptation, saying:

"Would anyone object to a production of Hamlet in outer space? Not as much as they object to the Gatsby adaptation, apparently...Maybe that's because Gatsby is so much about a time and a place, while Shakespeare, in my mind, is more about universal ideas, ideals, and feelings. Luhrmann needed to breathe life into the ephemera and aura of the 20s and that's just what he succeeded at."

'The Great Gatsby'/James Franco (Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures/Getty Images) (from Yahoo! Movies)
Please please please let that mean that chronically scattered James Franco is planning an adaptation of Hamlet in space!

I'd also like to point out that this is not completely outside the realm of possibility. James Franco previously adapted Gus Van Sant's 1991 movie, My Own Private Idaho--which was loosely based on Shakespeare's Henry IV and Henry V--by re-editing the original footage to showcase star River Phoenix, calling the resulting film My Own Private River. Then he wrote an article about it which appeared in the book Living with Shakespeare.

So what I'm saying is this: James Franco could totally decide to do Hamlet in space. YES! That is exactly the level of crazy ideas the world needs.

Speaking of space, let's all just watch Col. Chris Hadfield be amazing one more time, shall we?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Shakespeare Roundup: Hamlet

I didn't really do a "what I learned" from Hamlet for a couple of reasons. One, I had read it several times before and I remembered it fairly well, so I guess I figured everything I had learned from it had already been learned years ago. And two, I had just finished reading a whole bunch of plays fairly quickly, some of which I didn't like at all, and I was relieved to get to Hamlet and have it be a play that I could enjoy wholeheartedly. So I didn't have that much to say other than "Yay! It was as good as I remembered!" But here are a few of the posts I did about Hamlet from My Shakespeare Year:

Ophelia, by John Everett Millais (via WikiCommons)
My friend Adrienne told me that the model for this painting was in a claw-footed bathtub heated by candles for hours, so the artist could capture the effect of water on the dress. Unfortunately, the candles went out, the water got cold, and the model got pneumonia and died. I'm not sure if that's true though.
No matter how much I've disliked some of the plays I've read so far, I am genuinely excited to be re-reading Hamlet this week. I remember it as a nearly perfect play: thought-provoking, emotional, memorable and just plain genius. I'm excited.
Hamlet (1990)

There are a lot of film adaptations of Hamlet, some direct and some indirect. I mean, it's a tremendously influential play. But my favourite is probably from the William Peter Blatty's little-known 1980 gem, The Ninth Configuration. It's not a retelling of the play, but the plot is influenced both literally and thematically by Hamlet.

You can watch the whole film on YouTube, but skip to the 31:30 mark to see Jason Miller explain his adaptation of Shakespeare's plays for dogs!

It's one of the most famous soliloquies in all of Shakespeare's plays. In fact it's probably the only reason I even know the word "soliloquy." It was the first (and possibly only?) Shakespearean passage I ever memorized (oh, wait, not only...I also used to have parts of "Venus and Adonis" memorized). Here's an homage to Hamlet's famous speech, "To Be or Not to Be."
Conclusion: Yay! It really was as good as I remember. Genius. Pure genius.